The development of TIPSY was motivated by the need to quickly display and analyze the results of N-body simulations. Most data visualization packages are designed for the display of gridded data, and hence are unsuitable for use with particle data. Therefore, a special package was built that could easily perform the following functions:
- Display particle positions (as points), and velocities (as line segments) from an arbitrary viewpoint.
- Zoom in to a chosen position. Due to their extremely clustered nature, structure of interest in an N-body simulation is often so small that it can not be seen when looking at the simulation as a whole.
- Color particles to display scalar fields. Examples of such fields are potential energy, or for SPH particles, density and temperature.
- Selection of a subset of the particles for display and analysis. Regions of interest are generally small subsets of the simulation.
- Following selected particles from one timestep to another.
- Finding cumulative properties of a collection of particles. This usually involves just a sum over the particles.
The basic data structure is an array of particle structures. Since TIPSY was built for use with cosmological N-body simulations, there are actually three separate arrays for each of the types of particle used in such simulations: collisionless particles, SPH particles, and star particles. A single timestep is read into these arrays from a disk file. Display is done by finding the x and y coordinates of the particles in the rotated coordinate system, and storing them in arrays. Screen coordinates are calculated from these arrays according to the current zoom factor. Also, a software Z-buffer is maintained to save time if many particles project to the same screen pixel. There are several types of display. An "all plot" displays all particles colored according to their type. A "radial plot" will color particles according to the projection of the velocity along the line-of-sight. A "gas plot" will color gas according to SPH quantities such as density, temperature, neutral hydrogen fraction, etc. Subsets of particles are maintained using boxes." A box structure contains a bounding box, and an array of pointers to particles within the box. All display and analysis functions are performed on the "active box." By default all particles are loaded into box 0, which becomes the active box. If a new timestep is read from disk, all boxes are destroyed. A selection of particles can be followed between timesteps via a "mark" array. Marked particles are displayed in a different color, and the analysis functions can be told to only operate on the marked particles.